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Why does the Church teach homosexual acts are ‘intrinsically disordered’?

Caitlin Bootsma - published on 03/25/13

Sexual complementarity between the sexes is written into our bodies

The debate over homosexual marriage has become so muddled that we rarely go back to the basics and consider the fundamental reason for why the Church is opposed to such unions. Many, in fact, are confused about the reasons for which the Church teaches that homosexual acts are ‘intrinsically disordered.’ The trouble is that much of our society does not admit the existence of natural law – the reasoning on which this argument is based – preferring to believe that there is no meaning inscribed in nature except for what we impose upon it.[1]

The Church’s teaching is based not only upon revelation, but also on the way in which our bodies are naturally oriented. Our first cue to the intrinsic nature of this orientation is that there are two sexes. Karol Wojtyła, now known as Blessed Pope John Paul II, writes that “[e]very human being is by nature a sexual being, and belongs from birth to one of the two sexes … In the same way, every human being is a sexual being, and membership of one of the two sexes means that a person’s whole existence has a particular orientation which shows itself in his or her actual internal development (Love and Responsibility, Ignatius Press).

Knowing that each person is either male or female, one can logically progress to question the sexual unions proper to each sex. Wojtyła again explains sexuality in a way by which we can take our cue from the body and the way it is ordered. He writes:

The sexual urge expresses itself in these life processes in such a way that the organism possessing male properties ‘requires’ an organism possessing female characteristics, in conjunction with which it can attain its proper end – that end in which the sexual vitality of the body finds its natural consummation. For the sexual life process is naturally directed towards procreation, and the other sex serves this end.

In other words, sexual complementarity between the sexes is written into our bodies, which is seen not only by the complementary way in which the two sexes come together in sexual unions, but also by the fact that there is a natural fruit of this union: children. Though not all heterosexual unions result in procreation, a heterosexual union points to procreation in a way which homosexual acts, masturbation or bestiality do not. Rather, they produce a sexual climax that results perhaps in fleeting pleasure, but not in the union of two bodies that were designed to fit together nor in the potential of the creation of new life.

Fr. Paul Scalia, a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, explains: “Although our culture speaks about various ‘orientations,’ there is really only one: heterosexual. This is simply another way of expressing the truth that human sexuality is ordered and designed for a purpose. It is oriented toward heterosexual union for procreation and marital bonding. Anything apart from that is a dis-orientation – meaning it is not oriented to the proper purposes of sexuality.”

When we talk about a ‘dis-orientation’ or a ‘dis-order,’ it is important to note that the Church is not saying a person is disordered. The Church teaches that homosexual acts are disordered; despite very genuine feelings or attractions for someone of the same sex, this does not mean that these feelings are ordered properly or fruitfully. A person is more than their sexual attractions, and as a Church, we should seek to welcome every person, including those who identify themselves as homosexual.

Christian anthropology dictates, therefore, that we look at the reality of natural law. Our attractions, our feelings and our opinions are not what determine a sexual orientation. Rather, the evident differentiation between physical sexes and the obvious unitive and procreative ends present in the sexual act point to a sexual morality in which homosexual acts are understood to be contrary to nature, and –while all Christians are called to a life of chastity – homosexuals are especially called to practice celibacy as the means of obtaining their sanctification.

[1] This concept of orientation is not unique to sexuality, there is an ordered way to eat (for nourishment) as well as a disordered way (eating only to throw it back up again – a disorder because it does not facilitate the natural orientation of eating, which is to strengthen our bodies).

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